Generic Generics

Back in the eighties, when I was making my way in the world all alone for the first time, generic products had become quite the thing. It seemed like every grocery store had at least one aisle where all the items were packaged in stark, black and white, no-nonsense boxes and cans and bags. And they were dirt cheap. You could get anything from coffee to paper towels to tuna to corn flakes.

Theoretically, the money that companies saved by not having to advertise and promote these products, and even, one assumes, the savings of not using colorful, eye catching packages, was passed on to the consumer. In addition, some products were sold below market value to draw customers in.

In most cases, the ingredients listed on these generic products were identical to their name brand counterparts. It was usually pretty easy to tell that this food was actually put out there by those same companies. Every single element about it was shaped the same. But you could save a ton of money by buying generic.

Unfortunately, generic food came with certain side effects. First and foremost, there was the embarrassment factor. When you filled your cart with these black and white products, you were telling the world that you were poor. As a struggling young adult, my kitchen cabinets were filled with them. I made it a point to make sure the cabinet doors were closed when people came to visit.

And then there was this underlying distrust of the food itself. Even if the ingredients were identical, this little voice in your head would go, “Why are they not taking ownership of their product? Are they ashamed? Are they trying to get rid of substandard food? Am I eating dumpster quality pasta or something? Who do I sue if I find a dead mouse in there?”

Generic food got the reputation of not being as good as the name brand stuff, even though in most cases people could not tell them apart in blind taste tests. There were a few exceptions, though. Everyone I knew agreed that generic macaroni and cheese was the best. Go figure.

Generic products have evolved over the years. They’re now kind of generic, but not. They have the pretty packaging. They even have a brand, sort of. They proudly sit on the shelves right beside the major players, instead of being relegated to a shameful little aisle of their own. Their labels reflect the store brand of the particular grocer that you frequent. That way, they can still benefit from a reputation, and yet not waste their profit margins on product-specific promotions and advertising. And we all can pretend we’re buying something “legitimate” that isn’t “for poor people.”

Win/win, I suppose. But it sure makes you realize how taken in we are by reputation and colorful ink. Still, in this day and age, when we are pelted with imagery everywhere we turn, I sometimes miss the plain, colorless simplicity of the generics of my youth. Especially the macaroni and cheese.


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How We Can Stop Drowning in Plastic

One of the things I love most about this blog is reader feedback. I enjoy reading the comments on the blog itself, and also on my Facebook Group Page. Often I learn quite a bit, and I do my best to respond to everyone.

In my recent post about Ghost Fishing, James suggested I watch a documentary entitled Drowning in Plastic. I was very excited to see that it was available for free on Youtube.

Even so, I have to admit that I was hesitant to watch this documentary. It was fairly obvious to me that it wasn’t going to be upbeat or lighthearted. We have a huge problem with plastic waste on this planet, and this film was going to shine a big old ugly light on it. Did I really want to bear witness to something that I feel so helpless to combat?

But in the end, watch it I did. And yes, it was heartbreaking. And sobering. And scary. But it was also really fascinating to see all the innovative ideas people are coming up with to combat this problem. I can’t possibly do those ideas justice. I suggest you watch the documentary for more details.

But I can share with you some of the many scary facts that I learned while watching.

  • Every minute, around the globe, we buy a million plastic bottles, a million disposable cups, and two million plastic bags. Every minute.

  • Every minute, an entire truckload of plastic ends up in the ocean. Over a year, this adds up to 8 million tons.

  • The vast majority of the plastic that has ever found its way to the ocean is still there.

  • By the year 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

  • The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is currently 3 times the size of France, and it’s not the only garbage patch on the planet. It’s just the most infamous one.

  • By 2050, annual production of plastic will have increased by 500 percent.

  • Every time you wash synthetic clothing, more than 700,000 microplastic fibers are released into the environment, and these fibers have been found throughout the food chain, from plankton to walruses in the most remote parts of the arctic. (And if that doesn’t get your attention, this article states that “the average adult consumes 2,000 pieces of microplastic every year from salt alone.”)

But there really are some simple things you can do to reduce your plastic usage:

  • Use a reusable water bottle.

  • Use reusable grocery bags.

  • Use a reusable coffee cup.

  • Stop using straws entirely.

  • Provide your own container and cutlery for takeout food.

  • Pack your own lunch.

  • Choose ice cream cones instead of cups. (No cup waste, no spoon.)

  • Avoid buying synthetic clothing.

  • Don’t buy plastic toys for your pets.

  • Use bar soap and bar shampoo rather than liquid soap and shampoo from plastic containers.

  • Refill printer cartridges.

  • Get a water filter and drink from the tap instead of buying bottled water.

  • Don’t chew gum. Gum is made of a synthetic rubber, which is a plastic.

  • Encourage manufacturers to reduce plastic packaging for their products.

  • Use a razor with replaceable blades instead of a disposable razor.

  • Buy detergent and soaps that come in cardboard boxes rather than plastic.

  • Use matches instead of a plastic disposable lighter. Better yet, don’t smoke at all, as cigarette butts contain plastic.

  • Buy food from bulk bins, using reusable bags, to avoid packaging.

  • Participate in river and shoreline cleanup efforts.

  • Recycle.

  • Shop locally to reduce plastic packaging.

  • Talk to your friends and family about our plastic problem.

Together we can make a difference. We can, and we must.


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